Windows Phone 7 is fresh start, and it’s neat. It’s a clean slate that Microsoft can use as a foundation to build something entirely new, and it’s not like any other phone you’ve used. It manages to do something that’s sadly rare for Microsoft, which is to leverage all of these different Microsoft products and services—Bing, Xbox Live, Zune to name a few—and seamlessly bring them together in a single, polished product. Which is exactly what Windows Phone 7 needs to be.
Microsoft’s description of the Windows Phone 7 interface is truth: It doesn’t try to feel like anything but a flat, digital interface. There is no attempt to depict three dimensionality or any kind of real-world mimesis. No gradients, shadows, gloss or shading. Everything is crisp and flat. Everything pops, bright primary colors and white text on a black landscape. Touch a tile on the main screen, and the interface flies away like exploding puzzle pieces, revealing the app you wanted to see. Oversized text is the order of the day. (Yes, it still runs off the screen in lots of place.) It feels gloriously modern. I love it. I wonder how gracefully it’ll age.
There are three buttons that’ll be on the front of every Windows Phone 7 phone: Start, Back and Search. Start works just like the home button the iPhone—it takes you back to the start page. Back is much like Android—it shoots you back a screen. Search is contextual, which means sometimes you don’t know what it’ll bring up. In Maps, it looks up where you want to go; in People, it looks through contacts; from the start screen, it’s Bing search, which is comprised of a general web search, local listings, and news.
Windows Phone 7 seeks to step away the barriers between you and you information, almost from the very first click. One of the very first screens you’ll see on startup is one asking you to sign in with a Windows Live ID. This connects your phone with your Windows Live and/or Hotmail e-mail account, calendaring, SkyDrive cloud storage, your Zune account, your Xbox Live gamertag and more. For now, many of the Windows Live benefits can only be realized if you’re using the Windows Live Wave 4 services. Most of these services are still in beta, but should all be live by the time Windows Phone 7 ships.
Windows Phone 7 fully integrates the Zune experience. If you have a Zune Pass subscription, you can find and stream music without paying a dime (beyond what you pay for the subscription). If you have a Zune account or Zune device and a passel of music, videos and podcasts on your desktop, you can connect the Zune to your PC and bring them over. The Zune client on the phone will also include an FM radio.
Web browsing (the technology is party IE7 and part IE8) is, as with most phones of this nature, a strong suit. Fully-rendered sites look great and WAP sites are tailor made for the long vertical screen. In each case, pinching and zooming reveals crystal-clear text, links and images. This is the performance we’ve come to expect of these large screen slab phones, and Windows Phone 7 delivers.